Since her debut single in 2013, Scottish sound sculptor Sophie has emerged as quite possibly the most important, boundary-destroying producer of the last decade. Early singles like “Bipp,” “Lemonade” and her co-production on QT’s “Hey QT” were packaged as “pop” songs, but were actually exercises in anonymous avant-garde cartoon chipmunk bubblegum replete with stark retro-future noise, slurps and swoops in the uncanny valley and wet noises that felt too close for comfort. Cool stuff for a buzzy Soundcloud sensation, surely, but the real coup was getting pop music to bend towards her warped vision. Sophie’s tweaked-out Blade-Runner-via-J-pop production has since infiltrated releases by Madonna, Charli XCX, Vince Staples, Cashmere Cat and more.
Her first solo album shows that there are even more sides to this virtual-insanity innovator. Like “Black Snow” and “Babylon” off the recent album by fellow mutant techno spoonbender Oneohtrix Point Never, opener “It’s Okay to Cry” plays like singer-songwriter fare in the age of Ableton, vaporwave and Mica Levi movie scores. Like a sincere android, she whispers the title before the transforming robot noises appear in the second verse. The result is something between Sam Smith, Future, Xiu Xiu and Kate Bush. “Immaterial” is basically a pop song filtered through the lens of video game music, anime, stadium EDM and some AutoTune that flies and flaps around the scale like an inflatable outside a car dealership: “I was just a lonely gur-ur-ur-url in eeeEEEEYYYEEs OF MY INNER CHiiiild.”
The most intriguing songs on the album are hard-churning, stark, quasi-industrial noise-step tracks like “Ponyboy,” “Faceshopping” and nine-minute closer “Whole New World:Pretend World.” Here it sounds like she’s taken the textures of her beloved Eighties house music and the swallowing screes of modern brostep and isolated them, treating each sound like a fat Lego. Vocal duties are handled by both Sophie and Cecile Believe and they aren’t content to stay in one mode – which is appropriate for a song like “Faceshopping,” which deals explicitly with identity. “Ponyboy” features voices like a cartoony dom and growling sub; the popping P’s in “Faceshopping” sound like an ASMR video; bog monster glurps are in “Whole New World.” And in all three, parts recall the flighty vocal tics of Nineties R&B of Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey.
Elsewhere, “Pretending” is a drone suite that ends like a decelerating machine; “Infatuation” is an R&B dreampop song caught in a tornado of digital noise; and the album’s closing two minutes sounds like a blown out synth cyclone like those of Tim Hecker or Ben Frost. If pop music continues to follow Sophie’s lead, we are in for some pretty wild times.